For sheer glamour and breeding, there has never been a TV personality like her.
Katie Boyle combined the poise of a society debutante with the elegance of the Vogue model she once was.
Added to that was an exotic aristocratic lineage that would make her the perfect hostess for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Yet the three-times married star, who died yesterday aged 91, was also known for more workaday roles — as an agony aunt and a regular guest on hit TV panel shows such as What’s My Line? and Juke Box Jury.
Boyle appears with her two dogs in 1993. The television personality has passed away at 91
Katie Boyle combined the poise of a society debutante with the elegance of the Vogue model she once was
It seemed there was a version of Katie to please all audiences — except her own father. It was his cruelty and bullying that overshadowed her seemingly gilded birth and left her convinced that she could never be loved by anyone.
She was born Caterina Irene Elena Maria Imperiali dei Principi di Francavilla, at a Florentine palace once owned by Italy’s royal family, in May 1926 to a British mother and a half-Russian, half-Italian marquis father, Marchese Demetrio Imperiali di Francavilla. Her parents divorced when she was five, and her father brought her up alone for the next 13 years.
‘He was a total schizoid — his own worst enemy,’ she told the Mail in 1995. ‘He could charm the birds off the trees and in public he behaved marvellously, but he wasn’t the kind of person to take home with you. One minute he would behave effusively and then he would do or say something terrible.’
Aged 18 in 1944, with war raging through Italy, she fell hopelessly in love with a married man — the first man, she said, ever to show her kindness.
Their affair lasted just four days, before he was executed by partisans.
She was distraught, but her father was so outraged at her behaviour that he had her committed to a lunatic asylum for bringing dishonour on his family. It was nine months before her mother, Dorothy Ramsden, who came from Yorkshire, managed to have her freed to travel to Britain.
The Queen met Katie Boyle whose husband Peter was the first producer of The Mousetrap at the 50th anniversary of the world´s longest-running play, in 2002
Katie blamed herself: ‘When my father locked me away, I thought it must have been because I had been very naughty. It was only when I grew up that I realised that everything he taught me about life was wrong.
‘I still saw him after I came to England. I’m very lucky that I can never remember the really bad things done to me. I suppose it’s self-protection, but I can never bear a grudge.
‘My father only had to be nice to me and I would think: ‘Oh, he isn’t that bad, really.’ But, gradually, I saw less and less of him and I didn’t even go to his funeral.’
Within a year of her escape from the asylum, she married Richard Boyle, later the Earl of Shannon. A few months later, she was pregnant, but miscarried after falling down a flight of stairs.
It was the mixture of the genteel and the unbuttoned, the repressed English rose and the racy Italian aristocrat, that defined her personality and made her the ideal agony aunt
Losing her baby, she later admitted, was a relief — she had never wanted children but, as a staunch Roman Catholic, was unable to consider an illegal abortion.
‘I don’t even like babies, and I felt trapped,’ she insisted boldly. ‘I would be hypocritical if I said otherwise.’
Her first marriage, which lasted eight years, was dogged by rumours of scandal — including a supposed affair with Prince Philip.
One persistent story claimed the Prince had made a sharp retreat through the servants’ entrance of her home just as her husband came in through the front door.
Katie always dismissed the talk as ‘pure fabrication . . . you just have to accept people telling complete lies about you’. A career as a model led to a spot as a BBC continuity announcer — and then a chance to join a panel game in 1954. She proved such a natural that the presenter’s role on a TV music programme called Quite Contrary followed.
Max Bygraves and Katie Boyle hosting the game show Family Fortunes in 1983
By now, she was remarried, to stockbroker Greville Baylis, but she briefly left him after a furious row — and rumours of an affair followed which resulted in the judgmental BBC sacking her.
The attitude of the Corporation was nothing compared to Katie’s own guilt about her personal life.
‘In the eyes of my church I am still married to my first husband, Richard,’ she once said.
‘We married in church and the marriage was never annulled. It worried me terribly and I nearly didn’t get married the second time because I felt it wasn’t a proper marriage.’
Her TV career was revived by a series of ITV plays opposite experienced actors such as Alfie Bass and Dennis Price, as well as a young Sean Connery.
But she was truly most at ease as herself, in breezy game shows such as I’ve Got A Secret and Pick The Winner, as well as hosting the glitzy Eurovision, which she did four times from 1960.
She was by now a household name, celebrated not least as the face of Camay soap in TV adverts — though she admitted in private that she didn’t use it because it brought her out in a rash. Then TV Times magazine appointed her as its agony aunt.
All this fame heaped even more pressure on her already stormy marriage. In 1973, she left Baylis again, this time amid a blaze of headlines accusing her of an affair with Peter Jackson, her editor at TV Times.
‘I wasn’t a home wrecker because his relationship with his wife was over when I met him,’ she said, ‘but that was how the public saw me for a while.’
The scandal drove her to thoughts of suicide: ‘I was staying on the 18th floor of the Saint George’s Hotel in London. I had my little Yorkie with me and I was so miserable, but I couldn’t decide how best to kill myself.
‘I thought about jumping, but that would have left my Yorkie all alone. Then I thought about poisoning myself and my dog, but I didn’t have the courage. And besides, I was still curious about what life had in store for me.’
Instead, she returned once more to her husband. But, by now, public interest in her had become salacious, and was not dampened when she presented Eurovision for the last time in 1974, in a satin dress so tight it was obvious she was not wearing knickers.
Following Baylis’s death in 1976, she met the impresario and producer of The Mousetrap, Sir Peter Saunders. He was newly widowed and 15 years older, but they married within three months.
‘My second husband told me how difficult I was and I concluded that I had better not get married again because I wasn’t easy to get on with,’ she explained. ‘I think the secret of marriage is to have a compatibility of defects. I don’t think anybody could cope with my explosions and energy more than Peter does.’
They remained happily married until his death, aged 91, in 2003.
In the Nineties, she began a new career on Radio Two, interviewing guests on Katie And Friends. She was polite, measured, sensible, impeccably well bred — and still retained a raunchy side.
Lust was an important part in all her marriages, she insisted, and she would always choose a sexy outfit over an elegant one.
It was this mixture of the genteel and the unbuttoned, the repressed English rose and the racy Italian aristocrat, that defined her personality and made her the ideal agony aunt.
‘It’s important to have agony in your own life to become an agony aunt,’ she said. ‘I don’t think there is a feeling I haven’t experienced, apart from envy.
‘And being a Latin, every emotion I have felt has always been exaggerated.’
What’s My Line star and actress Katie Boyle, the face of 1960s Camay soap adverts, dies aged 91
Former Eurovision Song Contest host and actress Katie Boyle, Lady Saunders died ‘peacefully at home’ aged 91, her agent has said.
Lady Saunders, who was married to the late producer of The Mousetrap Sir Peter Saunders, was best known for presenting the music spectacular in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Italian-born television personality was well known for appearing on TV panel games such as What’s My Line? and for presenting the Eurovision Song Contest in the 1960s and 1970s.
Katie Boyle, television personality and Eurovision Song Contest presenter, has passed away at the age of 91
In 1960 the UK hosted volunteered to host the competition despite never having won it and Katie Boyle began her reign as Britain’s unofficial Queen of the contest.
She was born in Florence, Tuscany, Italy, to an Italian marquis and his English wife, Dorothy Kate Ramsden.
She arrived in Britain in 1946 and began a modelling career – which included work for Vogue.
She then appeared in a number of films including Not Wanted on Voyage (1957), The Truth About Women (1957) and Intent to Kill (1958) with Richard Todd.
Boyle then became an almost permanent fixture on British television during the 1950s.
A decade later she became a television personality, regularly appearing on panel games and programmes like Juke Box Jury.
In the 1960s she appeared in a long-running series of television advertisements for Camay soap.
She became the face of Camay soap in television adverts in which she compared the product to high end, expensive soaps. Amusingly, she was allergic to the product herself
In her capacity as a host she fronted shows such as the Ivor Novello Awards, and she had a long-running radio programme called Katie and Friends on BBC Radio 2.
A lover of dogs, she was a committee member of Battersea Dogs Home for more than 25 years and wrote Battersea Tales – stories of rescues from the dogs home in 1997.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, where Boyle was a committee member for more than 25 years, paid tribute.
They wrote on Twitter: ‘We’re saddened to hear that Katie Boyle, one of our lifelong supporters, has passed away.
Lady Saunders (pictured left and right) died ‘peacefully at home’, her agent has said
Boyle appears with her two dogs in 1993. The television personality has passed away at 91
‘Katie was a devoted dog lover and a much-loved TV personality who contributed so much time and energy to helping Battersea during her 25 years as a Trustee. She will be greatly missed.’
She married three times and wrote about her life in showbiz in 1980 in autobiography What This Katie Did.
In 1998 she told the Press Association: ‘My whole career really started by accident. There was a time when I was on the BBC three times a week – it seems very strange to think of that now, but it was the only thing people watched.’
Max Bygraves and Katie Boyle hosting the game show Family Fortunes